Startup Weekend - Learning to swim from the deep end

Startup Weekend.

On the surface it doesn’t seem to have much relevance to the Print Room, and writing a blogpost about it over a week later potentially seems like an afterthought.. but it’s not. Its just that I have only now recovered from the exhaustion. A good kind of exhaustion however let me assure you! I needed this time to ruminate on the experience and what it could mean for my artists before putting proverbial pen to paper and writing this post.


 One very tired Print Room manager, Helen Clegg, on day two of Startup Weekend.

One very tired Print Room manager, Helen Clegg, on day two of Startup Weekend.

For those of you who don’t know, Startup Weekend describes itself as “a 54 hour event that brings together Auckland designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and experts from all domains to do amazing things”; pitch an idea, form teams, spend an insanely small amount of time (or large amount of time over one weekend - depending on your perspective) working on the business proposition for said idea, then pitch it to the judges on Sunday night - trying to convince them that you’ve got the most viable, exciting, and executable business idea.

54 hours to create a business proposition from scratch is not a long time! The hours roughly broke down to 5pm until 1am on the Friday, 8am until 1am on the Saturday, and 8am until 10pm on the Sunday, with the final pitches and judging kicking off at 5pm Sunday. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life.


Startup Weekend Lean Canvas

When we first launched the Print Room, I didn’t know anything about running a business, let alone starting one. Everything we have achieved with the Print Room, I learnt on the job, using my common sense and industry insight as a freshly graduated art student, under the mentorship and supervision of the awesome crew at BizDojo - our parent company. So when a Dojo colleague told me after the last Startup Weekend that it was one of the best experiences of her life, I knew that I had to sign up for the next.


I had two other personal reasons for signing up to Startup Weekend Auckland aka. SWAKL.


The first was learning, or rather; reinforcing and reaffirming the knowledge I had built and acquired through setting up the Print Room.


The second was to build confidence, both in the personal and professional sense.. If there’s one thing that makes me sweat and break into a sense of panic, it’s networking. Being in a room full of strangers and having to talk to as many of them as possible ignites an automatic flight response in me. That and public speaking.

So naturally, throwing myself into a situation where I had to do both of these things fairly consistently in what is essentially a human pressure cooker of a weekend seemed like the best course of action. Turns out it was a pretty good decision. I faced my fears, pitched on the Sunday in front of my boss and a room full of strangers (think Shia LaBeouf’s “JUST DO IT!” motivational video)  and our team won Startup Weekend!! I walked away triumphant, shattered, and feeling on top of the world - the best kind of exhaustion. The team win felt amazing, but to be honest...not as amazing as the personal win.  


So why should every artist, designer, creative and maker, try Startup Weekend at least once?

Simple. We spend so much time on the creative side of things, the art, but knowing how to manage ourselves as a business... that is so important. Now I’m no expert -  my art career is going ok don’t get me wrong, but I need to run it as a business much much better. Sometimes considered a dirty concept in the art world I know, but artists ARE ENTREPRENEURS (only with way smaller budgets)  Check this out to see what I mean.


Considering the fact that arts grants and funding is drying up by the second - example. Art in the Dark festival cancelled due to lack of funding - not to mention that the majority of artists can’t afford to work as full-time artists, needing at least a part-time if not full-time job to pay the bills, we could all do with upskilling a little on the business side of things, in the hope that we can afford to take more time to make our art!


Then there is the confidence thing. It’s so important for all of us in the arts industry to be able to talk about our work to an audience of people that we don’t know. What better way to gain confidence publicly speaking about a subject you know really well than diving in headfirst and publicly speaking about a subject you have only had 48 hours to learn about.

 The winning team at Startup Weekend. Photograph courtesy of Startup Weekend Auckland.

The winning team at Startup Weekend. Photograph courtesy of Startup Weekend Auckland.


Face your fears, learn something new, meet some new people, dive in at the deep end, and swim hard - I thoroughly recommend it